Although Timothy Olyphant has primarily been known as film actor for the past fifteen years, he’s managed to make his mark on television playing western style heroes, first as Sheriff Seth Bullock on HBO’s "Deadwood" and currently as U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens on the FX original series, "Justified."
Based on the works of crime novelist Elmore Leonard, "Justified" takes place in Harlan, Kentucky and follows Raylan’s attempts to clean up his home town from crime and corruption, while navigating tricky personal relationships and an old enemy named Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), who may also be one of Raylan’s only true friends. Recently, Olyphant spoke with the press about the new season, bringing Leonard’s world to life and the unexpected menace of the Bennett clan that will unfold over the next 13 weeks.
Q: Were there any characters on either westerns or cop shows that influenced your take on Raylan Givens?
Timothy Olyphant: No, I really didn’t look past the – you know, the books. After that, I tend to draw inspiration from whatever just kind of floats my boat for the moment. But, I really spend a lot of time with the source material and I read those books constantly, and spent time with Elmore. And then, it was conversations with Graham, you know? And it was some conversations with U.S. Marshals; things like that.
Q: [We feel that] you’ve made Raylan Givens probably one of the most interesting and dynamic characters in TV right now. How does it feel basically to get to play a modern day cowboy every week?
Timothy Olyphant: You know, I – it – I appreciate that. Thank you. I can’t take full credit for it. I’m really just, you know, saying the words and trying to kind of bring it to life.
it’s all cowboys and Indians when it comes down to it. it’s kind of the fun of the job, it’s child’s play, and I get a great deal of fulfillment out it. It just so happens every now and then you actually put on an actual cowboy hat and it kind of brings it all home, but you know this one’s fun. You know, it’s always fun to [play] cops and robbers and in this case it’s kind of more like cops and hillbillies, And this one’s a blast.
It’s… the tone of the show, the tone . Elmore’s cool and funny. And it’s a kick to be able to play what, I guess they call a drama, but day in and day out I think we’re making a comedy, so it’s a lot of fun.
Q: Sticking with the western motif for a second, Raylan has also been called a modern day John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Do you ever think of him like that?
Timothy Olyphant: Not until just now. When I read the books I kind of thought, yes, that’s kind of in the ballpark at what I was thinking. The books are great. You know, the character’s iconic. It’s funny and Elmore… what I remember liking about the books, in terms of what Elmore kind of took one of those characters and handed him an ice cream cone, and I thought that kind of made it really special.
Q: “Justified” is also showing us a part of the country that’s almost frightening at times. And it’s a side of America that we rarely get to see. Do you think there’s an irony in finding the balance of showing us things we don’t want to see but still finding a way to make it compelling?
Timothy Olyphant: I do. You know, my – off the top my head answer, it’s scary out there. Our job is to try to make that entertaining. That’s more or less the deal that we all signed up for. Life moves pretty fast and it’s pretty scary, but at the end of the [day]. the show’s about a guy who is trying to do the right thing and get through the day with some sense of his reality intact, and I think there’s a certain comfort in that.
Q: Do you enjoy building your character over the course of a season on television as opposed to building a character up for a film?
Timothy Olyphant: Well, the fun of it is… in a film you more or less know the beginning, middle, or an end and you might have some wiggle room in there, but this really is a journey. And I’ve been very fortunate to be kind of allowed in on a part of that process. So, that is one of the real challenge here for me that I’ve really enjoyed. I don’t think of it as building a character. I just think of it [as] we’re just telling a story and I don’t know how it’s going to end, and that’s kind of the fun of it.
But for me, at the end of the day…. the same things apply. I’m still trying to scene to scene figure out what it is I’m doing and basic rules still apply. The tremendous upside here is that it’s such a great character, and it’s really tough to get your hands on a great character.
Q: How would you describe Raylan’s relationship with his new antagonist, Mags. And what was it like working with Margo Martindale?
Timothy Olyphant: Margo’s just the real deal. I just – she [could] be picking out dresses, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s just a – it’s – I don’t know what else is on TV, but I’m pretty sure that’s something special. And it’s a pleasure to work with her and Jeremy [Davies] and Joe[Lyle Taylor] and, you know, all those guys, Bradley [Henke] playing Coover. They’re just great, and I just thought we were onto something special.
You know, the inspiration for the character came from Elmore who has written some stories about Raylan and he had a character in one of his books that was a man, I think he was calling him Pervis Crowe, connected to the Crowe family. And Graham wanted to make the character a woman and Margo is just like such a fantastic choice. So, it feels like something that you just don’t see.
And as far as the families and the history, I mean that’s something that Graham and I were both really interested in exploring this year in that sort of Hatfield-McCoy kind of culture and styles. And I think that you know it’s been really nice. It’s what was alive in Elmore’s original story – short story with Boyd, and we tried to kind of keep that alive, and also kind of deepen it.
It’s really nice throughout the season we keep kind of deepening that history, kind of keep peeling back the layers. You find out more and more as we go, little hints that we leave as the story goes we kind of come back around and get a little deeper. And it’s just the world we created this year, I think, is just really rich.
Q: What’s it like working with Walton Goggins on the series?
Timothy Olyphant: Well, Walt’s fantastic. I mean, Walt’s just – anytime he’s on the call sheet I know it’s going to be an easy day for me, because I just sit back and let him do all the work. When you’ve got someone who’s going to take the take, moment to moment, keep you on your toes, it just… I remember years ago my acting teachers saying, “Just work off the other person.” Well, when you’ve got someone like Walt, it makes it real easy to do it.
Q: And what’s happening with his character, Boyd this season?
Timothy Olyphant: As far as his character, you know, it’s really great. We had a lot of fun with him this year. He’s, as Elmore said, he’s one of these guys where I don’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth, but I can’t stop listening to him. He’s one of those guys who just seems like he could be whoever and whatever he needs to be, given the situation.
And, you know, Walt can speak more eloquently about the character than I can, but we really had a lot of fun watching him sort of start out with him sort of lost in the woods, and kind of regain his footing and find his way and come back to life. And he’s in a completely more kind of dangerous and compelling way this year than last year.
Q: Do you think that Raylan views Boyd as an old friend at this point?
Timothy Olyphant: No, I don’t. I mean, I honestly don’t think I see him as a friend, you know, in terms of their relationships. I see it for just as – I think all we’ve told you, according to my scripts, is they have a history. And I think there’s a knowing this. I think there’s an understanding between them. But beyond that, I think that’s kind of it.
I think after that it becomes about it’s fun to see them – their worlds collide. And I think given what he does and given what my character does, they’re going to keep running into each other.
Q: What is it about “Justified” that makes it such a unique show?
Timothy Olyphant: Oh, you know, I’m not a huge fan of every episode, but there’s not an episode that goes by without me finding – there’s something – there’s always something and I’m like, “That’s just – that’s good drama, it’s good storytelling.”
The examples are countless. This season, I mean, God, where do you start? it’s everything from something small. It’s Art telling me I should get an Uzi and it’s walking into Mags’ store and asking her, “How’s business.” You know for me, from an acting standpoint, it’s fun to be in a scene where me asking Mags, “How’s business,” is both so conversational small talk, and yet feels so loaded.
I think that’s part of the brilliance of Elmore Leonard, and it’s very difficult to kind of replicate week after week. And I think our writers just do a fantastic job, which is he seems so – it seems like small talk. It seems like he’s just kind of meandering, but really everything is kind of like a bullet, you know, headed towards a very – something very specific. And those moments are a blast.
I could just go on forever. I mean honestly, it’s – the job is a – just a joy. Day in and day out it is – I never – I’ve never left that set and didn’t think to myself, “That was great. That was just a great scene. It was a great moment. It was a great performance.” Not mine, I mean I’m just talking about the ones around me and it’s… I put in these long hours on this puppy, but at the end of the day you just always walk away going, “God, you know, there’s something to be proud of. It was pretty cool.”